What is the reason for mental illness? Sometimes it is claimed that it all depends on childhood, how one’s parents failed in one way or another (or many) ways. I’m sure there’s some truth to it. But I would like to take a different perspective.
How it is not possible to grow up/raise children without there being a lot of errors. A little impressionistic, and completely incomplete, I would like to take up things, free from memory, as I have read, that correct the overly idealized image one might have.
I would argue that it is impossible to protect children from a plethora of unpleasantness, which they are not equipped to deal with or be able to process (precisely because they are children).
Right from the start! Being born is a hell of a drama. There are psychologists (Frank) who believe that a “birth trauma” is the basis for all sorts of difficult things later in life. How to protect the child from it? You have to get out of there. And then? Hopefully, a period of relative harmony and quiet symbiosis with mom will follow. But then there’s the “good and the bad breast” (Klein) which, sure, you can make fun of, but which there’s probably a grain of truth in anyway. Just think! The frustration of not getting the food exactly when you want. (Or the diaper changed, or that the temperature of the surroundings is regulated exactly when needed.) Crying and fear of being abandoned.
And then you get a little older. Maybe there are siblings, younger or older, who are also there and disturb the mind… Envy, all nuances. How the hell can parents protect the little child from that?
And more, the parents are not only parents, but also (at best) have a completely separate relationship, that the children have nothing to do with. This whole thing of experience your parents in the bedroom, “the primal scene”, in reality or imagination (Freud). Others, as I remember it (Laplanche), say that’s what the kids catch very subtly. For example, that the mother seems to have something, her partner, that draws her attention away from the child, must be perceived as both threatening and incomprehensible.
To this should be added all sorts of other feelings and overwhelming (precisely because you are a child) impression that you are exposed to. Parents’ and older siblings’ entire register of emotions… anger, worry, inattention, lust, fear… Which the child has little opportunity to understand.
So, we’ll – all of us -probably come out of childhood as pretty jaded individuals. And maybe there’s something good about that even? The world is a somewhat disturbing, challenging place to be for the rest of your life. So having to get a little thick-skinned is perhaps a good thing? (Then, of course, there are children who get to experience much more than normal or in practice inevitable, but that’s not what I wanted to try to catch here.)
I end with the famous expression (Winnicott) about how no one should have greater ambitions as a parent than to be “good enough”. The fact that so many people are depressed, anxious today, and that the sale of antidepressants is breaking all records, is not something to blame the previous generation for. There are a lot of other factors at play, rather, I think.